Magic Alex hasn’t turned up much in this tale lately — his last mention was back in August — but he was still around. For years he had been telling The Beatles that EMI Studios (which you and I know as Abbey Road) was outdated and lame, and that they deserved a state-of-the-art 72-track studio, which he would be happy to create for them if they provided funds. This they had done, and the studio was now theoretically complete and ready for them to record in.

Having decided that Twickenham was Bad Juju, and reluctant to return to EMI — about which they apparently had PTSD from the White Album sessions — today The Beatles decamped to the basement of the Apple building on Savile Row to christen the new studio. They had a rude surprise in store.

In fact, “fiasco” is probably too mild a word to describe what Magic Alex had wrought. According to Dave Harries, a recording engineer who was present,

The mixing console was made of bit of wood and an old oscilloscope. It looked like the control panel of a B-52 bomber. They actually tried a session on this desk, they did a take, but when they played back the tape it was all hum and hiss.

Adds Bob Spitz’s The Beatles,

Somehow, seventy-two tracks had dwindled down to a neat, sweet sixteen … patched together by a dense thicket of wires that snaked across the floor. The accompanying speakers were nailed haphazardly to the walls. “We bought some huge computers from British Aerospace … and put them in my barn,” recalled Ringo, “but they never left that barn” and were eventually sold for scrap.

When George Martin arrived to inspect the facilities, he was stunned … traipsing from room to room as though inspecting a bomb site. “In fact, Magic Alex … had forgotten to put any holes in the wall between the studio and control room.”

So the bad news was that they had a completely unusable studio. The good news was that this seems to have finally woken up even John Lennon to the fact that Alex was a charlatan; he would shortly be fired from his job, such as it was, at Apple.

Meanwhile, an emergency call went out to George Martin. The Beatles still didn’t want to go crawling back to EMI; could they perhaps borrow some mobile recording equipment for their studio? Martin agreed, and agreed to help out with the recording, despite being told by Lennon:

I don’t want any of your production shit. We want this to be an honest album.

And also despite the fact that Paul had hired another producer for the sessions, Glyn Johns, who technically carried the title of “balance engineer.” At this point some of The Beatles had started to resent the amount of credit that George Martin got for their records; they had wanted to make an album without him, but when push came to shove, they went running back to Daddy.

Still, Martin will be somewhat of a spectral presence in the coming weeks, flitting in and out of the picture. Much of the work will be handled by Johns, a star producer in his own right whose CV at the time included the Stones, Steve Miller, the Small Faces, and Traffic, and would eventually expand to encompass the Who, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and the Band, and even the redoubtable Blue Öyster Cult.

But at the moment things remained in stasis until Magic Alex’s mess could be cleaned up and a workable studio brought online. This would happen surprisingly quickly — but not today.

 

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